April 17, 2024

By Nicholas Fandos


She may not be a committee chair, but perhaps no single Republican lawmaker has done more to exert pressure on elite universities since the Israel-Gaza war began than Representative Elise Stefanik of New York.

Ms. Stefanik was already a rising star within her party, the top-ranking woman in Republican House leadership and considered a potential presidential running mate when the House Education and Workforce Committee began investigating antisemitism on college campuses. But her grilling of the presidents of Harvard, University of Pennsylvania and M.I.T. at a December hearing became a defining moment.

Ms. Stefanik pressed the leaders to say whether students would violate their universities’ codes of conduct if they called for the genocide of Jews. Their dispassionate, lawyerly answers about context and free speech set off a firestorm that ultimately helped cost two of them, Claudine Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill of the Penn, their jobs.

The exchange also helped win Ms. Stefanik widespread attention and rare plaudits from grudging liberals, who typically revile her for embracing former President Donald J. Trump and his lies about the 2020 election. On Wednesday, she was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2024.

Ms. Stefanik is a graduate of Harvard herself. When she first won her seat in 2014, she was the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives. She beat a centrist Democrat, and in the early days of her career, she took on more moderate stances.

These days, she describes herself as “ultra MAGA” and “proud of it.”

Ms. Stefanik, 39, has said she was “stunned” by the responses of the presidents during the last hearing. She plans to reprise that role on Wednesday, grilling the president of Columbia University, Nemat Shafik, and members of its board of trustees.

In an opinion piece in The New York Post before the hearing, Ms. Stefanik said antisemitism at Columbia had become “egregious and commonplace.” She charged Dr. Shafik with failing “to ensure Jewish students are able to attend school in a safe environment.”